Traditional feast teaches students about tradition and protocol

Warrior Tracks lead students from Queen Mary and Arthur Peachey School in drumming at Won Ska School on March 20, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

A special ceremony was held at Won Ska Cultural School Wednesday to mark the spring equinox and to feed the spirit of a pair of new drums.

The traditional feast was put on by Prince Albert Outreach. It featured elk stew, fried bannock, tea and berries. The feast was an opportunity for Won Ska students, as well as the Warrior Tracks drum group and drum groups from Queen Mary and Arthur Peachey schools to learn more about traditions and protocol.

The two new drums — one for Warrior Tracks and one for Queen Mary School, had their spirits fed during the ceremony. The drums were set out in the middle of the room, two new ones, handcrafted out of a wood rim and a moose hide, alongside one existing drum.

Students gathered around the drums in a circle, sitting on the floor, legs straight out in front of them, as they learned about and participated in the protocol.

Food was passed out — according to protocol, you cannot reject any food offered to you — and prayed over by an elder during a pipe ceremony. No one could eat and the ceremony couldn’t be completed until everyone had received food, cooked by the women, but served by the men.

“The drums are the heartbeat of Mother Earth,” explained elder Liz Settee. “The drum came to us through a woman. She had a vision. That’s why when the drummers are singing, they sing so high. They’re trying to mimic the woman.”

The respect shown to the drum is the same respect that is supposed to be shown towards women.

‘Women are the givers of life,” Settee said. “You have to honour that drum. And with any spirit, in traditional Indigenous culture, we have to feed those spirits. We wanted to feed our new drum so it carries a good pitch and good tone, and brings unity. There are a lot of different reasons for feeding the drum.”

Elder Liz Settee checks on the Elk stew at Won Ska School on March 20, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Because a drum was being gifted to Queen Mary School, Settee said it was important to show the students the protocol that goes with feasting the drum.

“It’s another form of learning for them,” she said.

“It’s tradition and protocol and how to do it. It’s an experience they would not get in a classroom.”

Those lessons were also valuable to the Won Ska students in attendance.

“It’s a learning experience, a tie to their heritage. Most of our students are First Nations, Métis or Inuit,” said Won Ska principal Ian MacDougall.

“They enjoy those kinds of things.”

Settee said the lessons of tradition and protocol aren’t as familiar to some Indigenous students raised in an urban environment.

‘They haven’t been taught that,” she said.

“Many of our students are lost between two worlds. They don’t know who they are. But when they see the richness of the culture and we show them traditions and protocol, it’s a whole new learning and understanding for them.”

With the traditional feast complete, the drumming could begin. As the three groups of drummers performed, an impromptu dance began to take shape, moving in a circle around the drummers.

Prince Albert Outreach works with the students from Queen Mary and from Arthur Peachey to teach drumming. While the Arthur Peachey students come to Won Ska to learn, Prince Albert Outreach goes to Queen Mary to teach those students. That’s why it was so important to give them a drum.

‘They’ve come so far. We like to share our culture, and the drummers down there are very into it,” Settee said. “It’s paying it forward.”